Hamed’s punches felt like ‘electric shocks’, while he demanded goatskin gloves

Prince Naseem Hamed had a glorious career, all things considered, and a record of 37-1 is nothing to scoff at.

Yet, we scantly see a man defined by one loss as gravely as Hamed was. A loss that came in his penultimate fight in 2001.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Prince Naseem Hamed was one of the most entertaining British boxers in history and delighted fans with his skills inside and out of the ring

We’ll get into that fateful night in Las Vegas shortly, but prior to that demolition job, Hamed had changed the face of boxing in the UK.

You regularly see boxers run their mouths, but many can’t walk the walk as well as talk the talk, with Muhammad Ali probably the greatest example of someone who could.

Perhaps for the first time, though, the UK had a charismatic, maybe even eccentric fighter in Naseem Hamed and not only was he entertaining in the ring, he was world class.

His ability matched his confidence and he quickly ascended to the rare air of superstar.

His final fight came shortly after his 28th birthday and saw a glittering career meet a frankly sad climax, but the decade he had spent in the ring coming through Sheffield’s fabled Ingle gym saw him become one of boxing’s greatest showmen.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Hamed was the highest paid featherweight in the sport earning over $12million in purses and his charisma earned him legions of fans

Early success

Prince Naseem won the WBO featherweight title from Steve Robinson at just 21 years old – and it was already his 20th career fight.

Of those 20, only two of them had gone the distance and of all the eight 12-round fights he managed prior to his title win, the Sheffield-born southpaw had only gone past six rounds twice.

After winning the titles and reaching the top level, sometimes the rate of KOs can slow (see Anthony Joshua with Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr), but that wasn’t the case with Hamed.

Just five fights later, Hamed was the IBF featherweight king and became the first Brit in a decade to win two world titles at the same weight. All of those wins, including the title fight, were stoppages.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

‘Naz’ held all WBC, WBO and IBF titles at featherweight

From his 37 career wins, Hamed actually ended with an impressive 31 stoppages at a weight that’s hardly famed for it.

The power was real. John Ingle, who held the pads for Hamed, said his biggest punches felt like ‘electric shocks’ and after every session he had to stick his hands in a bucket of ice water to stop him getting the shakes.

Ring entrance and persona

Early in his career, Hamed promised to deliver a show. He did that in the ring with his sublime performances, but he was also entertaining the crowd before even laying his hands on anybody.

Hamed, who is of Yemeni descent, was often labelled arrogant and flashy. It was something he embraced and made him a pay-per-view star and his flip over the ropes became synonymous with him.

The leopard skin shorts and total confidence that emanated from the man made him a spectacle.

To fight Vuyani Bungu in 2000, he came to the ring on a flying carpet, with P Diddy – one of the biggest stars in the world at that point – walking behind him.

As his career rolled along, his dedication diminished and his tastes became more extravagant.

Ahead of his career-defining loss to Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001, Hamed had a barber flown in from LA and he dispatched one of his entourage to Mexico to make sure his gloves were made of goatskin because “they’re the best to taste when their smashed in your mouth,” he remarked.

His coach, John Ingle, though thinks the life of luxury was detrimental to a man who had cracked America a few years earlier with a firefight against Kevin Kelley.

“Unfortunately, the more successful Naz got, the less he trained. He worked harder as an amateur than he did as a professional.

“He could have been a five-times world champion.”

The demise

It could be argued that Hamed never fought names like Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Márquez and Manny Pacquiao. Fellow greats, little men he could have feasibly faced to enhance his legacy. Marquez was even the number one contender to Hamed’s WBO title at one stage, but the fight never materialised.

However, if the Barrera fight showed anything it was that Hamed would have taken the fights if the right money was on the table.

It’s not like he was facing nobodies; Tom Johnson was The Ring magazine’s number one featherweight when he stopped him. He also defeated former world champions in Manuel Medina, Wilfredo Vázquez, Wayne McCullough and César Soto, the latter of whom he pried the WBC featherweight title from.

“Beyond the smile and humour, the flying carpets and all the ­razzmatazz, I wanted to knock someone out cold,” he said in 2015.

People talk about power in boxing all the time and Hamed’s was not only very real, but he had the skill and fluidity on his feet not many could handle.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Hamed met his match in Barrera, but it was his preparation that let him down the most

Guardian journalist Sean Ingle said he visited Hamed training in Sheffield in his younger days and saw him routinely demolish opponents far bigger.

“I particularly remember him beating up the British middleweight champion Neville Brown, who fought Steve Collins for a WBO world title, and the future British cruiserweight champion John ‘Buster’ Keeton, a man nine inches taller and five stones heavier. Hamed was that good.”

At an airport once, Hamed – carrying his world titles on his shoulders – was flanked by his promoter Frank Warren when, by chance, he encountered Chris Eubank.

After accusing Eubank of stealing his showmanship, Eubank slapped both of Hamed’s titles to the ground. Only Warren stood between the two polarising fighters.

“Chris, be quiet and walk away,” the promoter said. “You will come unstuck.”

Even though Eubank towered six inches over Hamed and was three stone heavier, he was wise enough to listen to Warren and depart.

Hamed was a fearsome puncher, but years of fighting the way did was incredibly hard on his hands.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

A few years before his loss to Barrera, Naz and Kevin Kelley wowed the audience at Madison Square Garden as he cracked America

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Hamed knew he had no one to blame but himself after the Barrera loss

By the time he faced Barrera, he was fighting for all the wrong reasons and wasn’t prepared in any kind of way. Having broken his hand in his previous outing, he had been laid up for months and had put on considerable weight.

He had to lose two stone in two weeks before the Barrera fight, which tells you a lot about how he had – or moreover, hadn’t – trained.

He was more worried about not being given the presidential suite at the MGM Grand and his entrance, which ultimately he couldn’t do because his gloves wouldn’t get the required grip. The fans in attendance roundly booed him when he opted against his trademark flip over the top rope.

His hands in pieces, no co-ordination or power because of the drastic and frankly dangerous weight cut, Hamed was battered. He made it through the fight, but it was a unanimous win for Barrera and the taste of reality didn’t do much to divert Hamed’s attention away from the $8.5 million he had just made.

However, he did return to the ring 13 months later and reclaim his IBF featherweight title with a sluggish and totally uncharacteristic performance against Manuel Calvo that somehow grabbed him a unanimous decision victory.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Hamed – in one of his more elaborate entrances – sits on a flying carpet as he makes his way to the ring

Then, at 28, he decided to hang up his gloves and though he didn’t officially announce that for years, he stopped training and it seemed as though the fire was gone.

By 1997, Hamed was estimated to be making around £8m a year and he was 22nd on Forbes’ world’s highest paid athlete’s list. Eleven million people tuned into ITV in the UK to watch his final fight.

By 2001, his wealth was estimated to be at the £50m mark – it’s easy to see why he didn’t fight again.

Hamed's punches felt like 'electric shocks', while he demanded goatskin gloves

Aadam Hamed with his father, whose other son, Sami, is now training at the famed Ingle gym in Sheffield

Prince Naseem Hamed’s sons sparring Kell Brook and Liam Williams

It’s a funny thing in sport when an athlete is legitimately great but, because they have confidence, the public wants to see them fall. What made Hamed different and seduced his fans is exactly what made others revel in his loss and served to make the memory of it louder than his accomplishments. A gift and a curse.

Hamed leaves behind a unique legacy that has undoubtedly influenced generations of fighters after him and his record leaves him as one of the all-time greats. One ill-advised night in Las Vegas be damned – we’ve all been there.

“I should never have taken that fight. It’s that carrot that dangles in front of you with so much money,” Hamed, who is now happy to watch his sons carry on the fighting name he made so electrifying.


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